“I like you…but.”
How many times have you heard those words? Or something similar like the tried and tested “it’s not you, it’s me.” Personally, I have heard both phrases more than I would care to admit, and quite recently at that too. But instead of doing my usual, which is to mope around eating crisps and drinking wine, I thought I would write down my musings regarding dating, my experiences and the revelations I have had along the way.
Disclaimer: let me start out by saying this isn’t going to be a psychological analysis of the male psyche; after all I’m a classicist not a psychologist.
I’ve never really been one to do the whole dating scene. Not that I haven’t attempted it in some sense of the word, but I have never really done the whole ‘meet a stranger in the bar after matching on Tinder’ experience. My past relationships (all two of them), for example, didn’t occur when I was actively dating. My first boyfriend and I met by chance at a choir event – the perfect place find love apparently – and the other was introduced to me by my friends. So, when my last relationship ended two and a half years ago, I found myself adrift with little to no experience of how to navigate the tempestuously stormy seas of online dating. Armed with my only my best photos (chosen to make it look like I have my life together) and terrible opening lines, I entered into the fray and thought that I would be in joyous love in a matter of weeks.
As you can probably tell by now, it hasn’t gone too well.
Now that isn’t to say I haven’t tried. I have given Tinder, Bumble and Hinge a whirl, but each time the same story unfolds. I either get close to arranging dates, get scared as anxiety decides to kick in, and politely say my goodbyes and delete all the apps from my phone, or I attract men I have lovingly dubbed as the ‘Caspers’. Why Casper you ask? Well, that’s because they give the Casper the Ghost franchise a run for its money. One day you are merrily chatting away, the next – poof! Gone and never to return, all traces of their profile and shared communication scrubbed from the platform in an instant. Even worse than the Caspers of this world though are the men who think it is acceptable to be overtly sexual one message in and react appallingly when you call them out on their behaviour, charmingly informing you that you’re ugly anyway and will die alone. Lovely stuff and definite boyfriend material (said no one ever). So, Caspers and sex pests aside, if you can’t tell already, I am not the most successful or proficient at online dating (hence my pre-emptive anxious cancellations) and sometimes it’s enough to make me want to give up the ghost entirely.
But there is also another trap I fall into, one which has arguably done the most damage to my romantic life, and this trap I like to call the ‘ghosts of dating’s past.’
These spectres are the experiences formed primarily from previous crushes or people I have known from school and or university and subconsciously fancied for millennia. You scroll through the apps and stop, seeing a friendly face, decide to start chatting, with the premise at this stage to rekindle a friendship and nothing more. But the ‘ghosts of dating’s past’ are not an online dating app exclusive. Sometimes they pop up on Facebook or WhatsApp with a ‘hey long time no speak’ and again you are lured in under the guise of chatting for ‘old times sake.’ What makes this trap so easy to fall into and so dangerous is the history between you, however small, that still exists as a tenuous connection between the two of you, and the potential for that ages-old crush to rear its ugly head as a consequence. This type of format is one I have found myself falling into every single time without fail, so much so that it is now a running joke among my friends. As you probably have already guessed (if you don’t already know from personal experience) these interactions are never successful either, and they are infinitely more painful when they end.
For me, I open up to these men quicker than I would to a stranger. I trust them more and, in that trust, find them to be kinder, more respectful and more genuinely interested in me than other men. We have shared experiences; a sense of commonality, and I find so much comfort in this as my anxiety does upon occasion make it hard for me to chat to new folks. But the issue with reconnecting with these known quantities rather than the strangers on dating apps is I get too invested too quickly. I am an emotional person and find myself in my feelings quicker than I care to admit. I end up looking for and finding meaning in the history and in things where there is none and sooner or later it has ended with them turning to me and saying “look Georgia, I really like you…but.”
Now the first time this happened I thought the guy was saying he liked my butt so I said thank you and I can say he was very confused. I soon realised my error however and sat in mortified silence over the phone. He liked me… but. “But what?!,” I asked him before being fed the well thought-out and practiced speech which detailed that although I was great, I wasn’t what he was looking for. Suddenly I felt like a pair of jeans handed back to the store assistant at a changing room or a flat that no one wanted to rent. The first time this happened I internalised it and twisted it and, in my own interpretation, I was the problem. I started to view myself as something that needed to be fixed. After a while, this feeling lessened and I started talking to someone else, but the same thing happened and happened again and again and again, always with that gut-punch of a refrain: “I like you… but.” By this stage I had stopped asking why but sometimes the reasons were given free of charge, ranging from a repetition of ‘you’re not what I’m looking for’ to the far more stinging ‘you talk too much.’
And even though I tried to build myself up after each rejection, the more I was told ‘I like you…but’ the more I became increasingly convinced that I was somehow faulty, that there had to be something fundamentally wrong with me as a person to keep eliciting this response from men. Despite most of their protestations that there was nothing wrong with me and the issues lay with them, I didn’t believe it. I looked at how to change myself, whether it be dieting, starting a new hobby, reducing how much I talked, reducing how much I opened up – the list goes on. I tried to shrink myself into a mould that I thought would be acceptable and with that shrinking I lost parts of myself. Until now.
I am writing this off the back of a recent heartbreak brought along by – you guessed it- a ghost of dating’s past, but this time something feels different. This most recent heartbreak, in tandem with me coming off the contraceptive pill and the positive impact this has had on my mental health, has unleashed the confident, sassy woman I thought I had lost. Yes, I have had my cry, my whine, my wine and my crisps, but I have also woken up to the fact that everything my friends and parents have been telling me has been right all along. There has never been anything wrong with me, and I don’t have to change or fit a mould to be considered attractive or worthy. I don’t have to stop talking so much if someone doesn’t want to listen, or diet or change my hobbies. If someone can’t see my worth, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to see it either. If someone won’t make the effort for me, that doesn’t mean I am not worth the effort. Who I am is, always has, and always will be enough and although it is cheesy to say – I like me with no buts!
So, on that note, if anyone gives you the get out of relationship free card by saying ‘I like you… but’, or ‘it’s not you it’s me,’ remember that their decision has not affected your worth. Yes it may hurt for a while but once the hurt is gone you have lost nothing – instead you have learned. And this point is important beyond a newfound ability to spot another type of Casper and avoid future ghosts. You have gained experiences, and been reminded of the love of your friends as they hold your hand while you snot-cry over a boy and then laugh about it afterward. You have seen depths to yourself and known the strength of your own heart, and that will arm you with an inner steel no one can take away.